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Former Member
In recent posts, I have often touched on topics such as the importance of partnerships, platforms, and the power of ecosystems. Success in all of these areas requires much closer collaboration between stakeholders than ever before: Openness – be it exposing your APIs, opening your platform, or sharing the risks of a new venture – is key. But there is another crucial connection that cannot be underestimated – the importance of the relationship between the company and a key element of its ecosystems: user groups.

The advantages of strong customer relationships are obvious. The software solutions to support companies in their quest to manage and maintain these relationships to the highest standards have been around for many decades. Against the backdrop of the digital age, closeness to the customer and a second-to-none level of customer service are more important than ever before: Customers expect the best experiences both online and offline, rapid responses to their queries and complaints, and personalized products. Listening to and understanding their points of view are therefore absolutely essential.

Teaming up for joint success

By the very nature of our work, software vendors have very close relationships with their customers and users. From co-innovation projects to support projects, the customer are always at the center of what we do. At SAP, as our customer base has grown, so have the size and number of SAP user groups. Around the world, user groups make a significant contribution in driving our industry forward and helping SAP customers make the most of their investments.

This year, the more than 3,300 members of the German-Speaking SAP User Group DSAG and SAP are celebrating 20 years of constructive and successful collaboration. I was honored to be invited to speak at the group’s annual congress in Bremen recently. With over 4,500 attendees, it was one of the world’s largest gatherings of SAP users.

Running under the slogan “Between Two Worlds – ERP and Digital Platforms,” the congress provided many opportunities to explore fit-for-the-future business models with hybrid architectures and flexible strategies for the digital age. It also presented this year’s member survey, which as always provided some important findings: 70 percent of respondents gave SAP S/4HANA a high to very high degree of relevance for digital transformation, while more than half saw the SAP Business Suite as another option for future digital projects.

As always, the congress was also an invaluable opportunity for me personally to gain feedback on our strategy, products, and services and hear from SAP’s users and their representatives about their requirements. But as software takes up its position at the heart of the strategies of companies of all sizes and in all industries, it becomes clear that the scope and nature of our work with user groups is also changing.

Customers want to understand how technologies such as machine learning, predictive analytics, and big data can help their lines of business. This shift sees us move from a relationship that previously focused primarily on explaining and shaping our portfolio to one in which we are working together with our customers to provide support at a strategic level on issues across the digital transformation spectrum. Of course, the feedback from the user groups is just as important as ever, but the relationship is now more symbiotic, creating more value for all the stakeholders by sharing our experiences and best practices.

What does this mean in practice? Our user group members want guidance on the digital transformation – what does this broad term mean specifically for their business? Where should their digital journey start? And what should the end goal look like? Working on these questions with customers and their representatives in the user groups has led to the introduction of new solutions such as the SAP Transformation Navigator. And the conversation is ongoing – we continue to listen to and support our customers with their questions on new technologies and topics such as platform strategy, redefined business models, and change management.

An era of new possibilities

It’s also about the human side of digital transformation. SAP, like all its customers, is facing enormous changes in the workplace. I firmly believe digitalization doesn’t destroy jobs, but job profiles are changing and there is without doubt a shift in skills. New technologies, data analytics, and social media impact the way we communicate, collaborate, and work. This makes continuous learning and training more important than ever: Regardless of an organization’s industry, it has to be prepared for new behaviors, competencies, and roles with significantly different skill set requirements. In recent years, we’ve seen the creation of a number of new jobs in areas like data science and we can expect to see many more brand new roles in – as yet – completely unexpected areas. We are exploring what this means for both leaders and employees, and we are sharing our findings and working with the user groups to better understand what the Future of Work means for our businesses.

User groups are obviously the ideal basis for peer-to-peer support. The great work they do is evident in the significant impact they have had and continue to have on influencing technologies, products, and strategy. But we’re also now seeing the relationship between user groups and technology providers – just like our collaboration with customers is intensifying and our ecosystems are tightening – deepen and expand into new areas. Teaming up in this way puts us in the best possible position to deal with the complex – and in most cases shared – challenges we’re facing. Working together enables us to succeed together.